The saying “change is good” rang true for the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) winners of the Rolex 24 At Daytona as DragonSpeed USA won the season opener for the second consecutive season – but with a very different look from 2019.
A year ago, DragonSpeed held the prestigious watches aloft with the No. 18 driven by Roberto Gonzalez, Pastor Maldonado, Sebastian Saavedra and Ryan Cullen. Two of the drivers from this year’s winning team – Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman – joined them on the podium, but watched the celebration from a bit of a distance as they finished third in the race.
This time, it was their turn to shine.
The No. 81 ORECA LMP2 07 entry piloted by Hanley, Hedman, Colin Braun and Harrison Newey led the final 212 laps of the race to take the victory. It was the first IMSA victory of any kind for Hanley, Hedman and Newey and – alongside Chaz Mostert (GTLM) and Andrea Caldarelli (GTD) – helped IMSA reach the 1000-driver mark regarding number of drivers who have recorded at least one win in the highest level of racing sanctioned by the governing body.
Prior to the start of the Rolex 24, 997 different drivers had stood atop the podium in the top-tier series. The mark now stands at 1,002 drivers.
“I’m the only American racing rookie here, this is my first time to Daytona,” Newey said. “It looks like a simple track on paper, but there are a lot of nuances that could cost you a lot of time. All these guys really brought me up to speed and got me comfortable. There were no secrets, and I think that’s what put us on the top step.”
For Braun, it was his second Rolex timepiece, following a 2014 Prototype Challenge win with CORE autosport. And he held no reservations about it being a total team effort to get the victory.
“Ben drove the wheels off the thing,” Braun said. “The guys have great pit stops and great strategies all day. When you execute like that and make no mistakes, you’re usually rewarded with a victory.”
The battle was intense atop the LMP2 leaderboard for most of the race, and only two teams ever holding the lead – the race-winning DragonSpeed entry and the pole-sitting No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 piloted by Ben Keating, Simon Trummer, Nick Boulle and Gabriel Aubry.
PR1 Mathiasen held onto the lead for the opening 104 laps of the race. After that initial stretch, the teams traded the top spot frequently until Braun passed Keating just after 7 a.m. on Sunday (17.5-hour mark) for the final time.
Shortly thereafter, PR1 Mathiasen fell four laps behind during an extended pit stop to repair damage and although they got back to just a lap down at the end, the car could never catch back up to DragonSpeed who led the final 212 laps.
The PR1 Mathiasen team finished second while Era Motorsport’s No. 18 car driven by Kyle Tilley, Dwight Merriman, Ryan Lewis and Nic Minassian finished third.